January 22, 2020
Event honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and calls for improved health outcomes in minority communities in maternal health, cancer, cardiac care.
Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive health network, is pleased to welcome New York Times columnist and CNN commentator Charles Blow to speak at the MLK Leadership Breakfast, an event to honor the civil rights icon and to detail strategies to improve outcomes in minority communities.
“We honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and take this moment to pledge to work together to erase the gaps that exist in outcomes for minority communities, a mission the entire nation must embrace,’’ said Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “We are privileged to have Charles Blow with us, who contributes so much to our national conversation on vital issues of social justice, racial equality and many other national and global issues.’’
Charles Blow, commentator and Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, served as the breakfast’s keynote speaker and gave a thought-provoking speech that included a more nuanced view of Dr. King. Mr. Blow explained that as a child, he idealized Dr. King, the optimist, “appealing to America’s better angels rather than ruthlessly calling out its persistent demons.’’ But as he grew older, he saw a more complex leader: “agitated, exhausted and even angry.’’
Mr. Blow noted that although Dr. King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech was powerful, a 1967 speech, “The Other America,” was more pivotal because it tied economic inequality to racial inequality and discussed “structural racism,” which Mr. Blow said is harder to change.
“King understood that structural poverty is a direct result of structural inequality,” he said, adding that people of color aren’t looking for pity because pity “reinforces the imbalances of power.” Rather, Mr. Blow added, America should “be true to what you said on paper—that all men are created equal.’’
Wayne Boatwright, host and vice-president of Diversity and Inclusion at Hackensack Meridian Health told the audience it was “an encouraging day for me.” Boatwright added he never tires of honoring Dr. King because the need for King’s work continues. As he noted in quoting Dr. King, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Mr. Boatwright is also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, to which Dr. King belonged. Several of Mr. Boatwright’s fraternity brothers attended the event in honor of Dr. King.
Hackensack Meridian Health is committed to narrowing the gap in racial disparities that exist throughout the U.S.: Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women; African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to die prematurely from heart disease and black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women. And despite the large gains in coverage for people of color under the Affordable Care Act, significant disparities in coverage persist.
The network has launched major initiatives to address these disparities including: a blue-ribbon panel to improve maternal outcomes with a particular focus on women of color; investing in research as a member of the NCI-Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center; and ensuring that students at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University reflect the communities they will ultimately serve. One in four students is from an underrepresented minority in medicine. Additionally, a core part of the curriculum includes pairing students with patients in underserved communities, so they understand all factors that contribute to health and illness – including housing, diet, transportation and economic issues.
“We are committed to transforming health care in New Jersey and beyond and we are working diligently to ensure that no one is left behind,’’ said Mr. Garrett.